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'It won't last forever': Daniel Ricciardo on F1 driver salaries

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The rewards can be rich at the top of any field but the financial lessons learnt getting there can also prove invaluable

What does it take to be a great F1 driver, cricketer, principal soprano or actor?

Behind all the glitz and glamour is a high-stakes game.

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For years their earnings are unpredictable and making it to the top is in the lap of the gods.

While most of us pursue job security with good salaries and benefits, they throw everything they have at their chosen field, knowing success is by no means guaranteed.

We interviewed four stars about their careers and how they managed financially. Despite being in different fields they share common characteristics.

While most of us would have given up at the first signs of failure, they were spurred to greater heights, driven by self-belief and passion.

They were also remarkably resourceful at supporting themselves in the early stages of their careers.

It taught them the value of money and the importance of setting some aside for the lean times. Investing for a secure future was a crucial part of it.

Described as one of the sport's most exciting talents, Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo finished third in the world championships last year behind F1 world champion Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. It's a high-adrenalin sport in which winners stand to make millions.

The likeable 27-year-old is highly regarded in the racing world. Easygoing, with a broad grin, he told the ABC it was "time to unlock the hidden honey badger".

The feisty animal is emblazoned on the back of his helmet.

"It looks cute and cuddly but as soon as someone crosses its territory in a way it doesn't like, it turns into a bit of a savage," he said.

His sole focus is on becoming world champion.

Ricciardo started racing go-karts at nine and his passion for racing - and success - grew from there.

"It's what I really wanted to do. My parents could see that and they continued to support me for the first part of my career."

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He didn't take their financial help for granted.

"It's the way I was brought up. I knew at a young age money doesn't grow on trees."

He secured a scholarship in 2005 and by 2007 was a signed-up member of Red Bull's junior team, but he still wasn't earning anything.

"Putting aside the opportunity it would present me fast-tracking my career, it meant we no longer had to pay to race. We didn't have to go and scout a team and spend $200,000 in one season racing. Red Bull was now covering this," he says.

"There was four to five years of racing in junior categories in Europe and Red Bull was paying for that but I wasn't actually earning anything. It's only when I got into F1 that things turned around pretty quickly."

It taught Ricciardo valuable lessons.

"Even though my career looked promising, I knew it could change very quickly. I knew when I did finally have something to show for it, and money in the bank, I wasn't going to splurge. You hear stories about young sportsmen making money but losing it just as quickly."

Like others interviewed for this article he shies away from talking about what he earns.

The sports blog Total Sportek lists his salary as $US5.5 million ($7.3 million) a year.

"Without going into numbers, it's only been the last few years that I've been earning money.

"I know that sport is pretty short term, it's not guaranteed for another 10 years. It's nice earning what I earn today but it's not going to last forever either."

He invests in real estate in Perth, where his family lives.

"Dad is in the earth-moving business and deals with a lot of builders and has a lot of contacts and knows Perth quite well, so I take some advice from him."

He also aims to invest in property overseas.

Like other stars of the sports world, there are lucrative deals on offer.

Ricciardo is a global ambassador for Perth-based TFS Corporation, an ASX 300 listed company. It's the world's leading grower, producer and seller of Indian sandalwood.

"It's a big part of WA and I believe in what they are doing," he says

The sandalwood is a key ingredient in pharmaceuticals, fine fragrance and cosmetics. It is also an important ingredient in Chanel No. 5 perfume. This month TFS will rebrand as Quintis.

But racing comes first.

"The world championship is 100% what I want to get out of my career.

"For me it's to hold the big trophy and to know that in that given year I was the best in the world. That's the biggest achievement you could really ask for."

Read the full version of this story, featuring cricketer Adam Gilchrist, Opera Australia soprano Taryn Fiebig, and actress Sarah Peirse, in the March issue of Money.

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Vita Palestrant was the editor of the Money section of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. She has worked on major metropolitan newspapers here and overseas and has won several prestigious journalism awards including the 2001 Citigroup Award for Excellence in Journalism, Personal Finance Category.
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